Shortly after LeBron James announced via Sports Illustrated that he was heading back to Cleveland, Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski fired off this tweet, which, given the stature of his pronouncements at times like this, had the general air of a collective verdict:
So true. Whenever I think of the city of Miami, I think DISCIPLINE. But no matter. A new narrative had been established, and directly after the LeBron announcement came a torrent of accolades for his decision, not so much for the choice he'd made as a thing in itself, but for the WAY the decision was announced. LeBron has grown. LeBron has matured. LeBron is a grownup. LEBRON IS A GOOD BOY NOW. Who's a good boy, Bronny? IS IT YOU? IT IS!
This video was compiled from just the past couple of days:
While narratives change a lot, people tend to remain the same, and I would wager that the only thing about LeBron James that has changed since The Decision back in 2010 is that he now knows precisely what kind of horseshit sports fans and sportswriters want, and how to deliver that horseshit. It should be humble, it should be understated, and it should turn up in tasteful prose in a tasteful magazine. Read that essay in SI and you see LeBron touch on every possible item in the great American psychic lunchpail:
True to his roots? Check.
Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio.
My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn't realize that four years ago. I do now.
Keeping his head down and not celebrating like a GLORY BOY? Check.
I'm not having a press conference or a party. After this, it's time to get to work.
Making Rust Belt folks feel like they're good blue-collar folks who drive trucks and shit? Check.
In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have.
All of this gets you the requisite pat on the head from the media—some large percentage of which is a lot more interested in pandering to the idea of the moral superiority of the Rust Belt than in actually living there—all because you did things the RIGHT WAY.
Four years ago, LeBron blew town for less money so that he could play with his friends and win some championships, which was totally reasonable, but because he announced this on a TV special that looked like a live broadcast of a hostage crisis, he was filleted up and down the sports pages. Shit, I called LeBron a cocksucker at the time. We were all evaluating LeBron on the merits of his self-presentation, on the quality of his public relations staff. We were drama critics, grading a performance. The substance of the decision—again, he took less money so that he could win, the sort of thing you'd figure would thicken the dick of your average sports moralist—didn't matter as much as the bad optics.
And now it's happening again, only as if in a photographic negative. If you cast aside all the "I'm coming home" shit, what you have is a story of the NBA's best player ditching a loyal group of aging teammates for a bigger salary and a franchise with better and younger talent and more maneuverability under the salary cap. From a basketball perspective, it was a cold decision—a smart call, and one that LeBron has every right to make, but one that under normal circumstances would touch the very center of Woj's g-spot, what with its overtones of greed and disloyalty. LeBron sold himself better this time, though. The optics were good. He put on a great show, the drama critics all agreed.
Everyone has a little Darren Rovell in him, it turns out. There is something truly gross about sportswriters marveling over LeBron's improvement in self-branding, which is completely divorced from his significance as a historically great basketball player and probably divorced from his everyday personality. (In this essay, as elsewhere, LeBron comes across as a prop in his own life.) When people praise LeBron for this letter, what they're basically saying is, "Oh, he's worked us over MUCH better this time."
That's how easy it is to change a narrative. Stay off the television, pose for a tasteful photograph, write a letter, and play to the fancy of a few influential people who like the idea of the Midwest a whole lot more than they like the reality of it, and you go from selfish to TEBOW in no time. LeBron James wasn't aware of this game four years ago. He sure as hell is now.
Video editing by Gizmodo's Nicholas Stango